When You Know Change Is Needed to Values-Based Leadership

By Maria Gamb

Sometimes staying the course and holding steady are great. But at some point, everyone must upgrade their systems, thinking, and ways of being to continue to be viable.

There’s a concept in nature called bifurcation. Bifurcation is a process that nature takes to renew itself. Usually it involves a disruption or inflammation that precipitates a split, a morphing into two. For example, deep forests are prone to fires. Within the forest are types of trees, spores, and other flora that require excessive heat for them to reproduce. With fire, they grow and multiply. Without it, they rot and die. One branch of possibility becomes life-affirming as a result of the disruption, and the other (without the disruption) could lead to the species becoming extinct.

When you apply bifurcation to business, you see that normal disruptions happen, and as a result — for example, the market crash in 2008 or massive corruption scandals — the system is forced to make a choice: review, reflect, and enact change, or do nothing at all. Doing the latter often results in the company petering out into extinction. Many companies and their leadership have taken this route.

vbl-bifurcation
Bifurcation decision point.

Not all disruptions or course corrections are a result of such large issues. Consider the following as potential signs that a change is needed in the leadership approach:

  • Excessive competition: While competition will occur, overly aggressive and destructive or disruptive behavior will crumble teams. The attributes and principles of values-based leadership become the remedy.
  • Exclusions and exceptions: Creating an environment where only some people need to follow the rules disrupts the level playing field of fairness where everyone has access to opportunities.
  • Excessive gossip and rumors: These are key indicators that there is a lack of communication and lack of trust seeping into the organization.
  • Team failure: Teams fail to work together to reach their goals.
  • Us versus them: When teams, managers, and leaders are pitted against one another, progress is inhibited.
  • Employee turnover: High levels of turnover create gaps in wisdom and continuity in the organization.
  • The decline of trust and motivation: These elements create the foundation where people work together for the greater good of all involved.
  • Lack of ownership: Leaders and employees who aren’t tapped into the vision, mission, or purpose for the organization’s work create apathy.
  • Stagnation: Lack of innovation in processes, problem solving, products, services, production, sourcing, and technology causes a great deal of frustration for employees.

The preceding bullets cover just some of the many issues you can list as reasons to consider making a change. The figure illustrates the crossroads.

When the decision is made that something must change, which is where you may be in this moment, the next step is to conduct a review to determine how to course correct and then roll out adaptive action and rewrite the future. You may be on a course that’s not sustainable. People may begin walking away from the company, or apathy may continue to weigh down progress. In your heart, you’re probably thinking, I just need to give this one more shot before I walk away. Or: This place has massive potential, but things have to change.

What’s scary is when leaders either refuse to see they have a problem or don’t care enough to make any changes. That, inevitably, leads to extinction — dismissal of leadership and potentially the failure of the company.

You make the choice to grow, change, and adapt and create a brighter future — or not. To make this choice, you need to be a leader who is open-minded, ruthlessly self-aware, and willing to look at the truth of your results. You also need to be savvy enough to understand that the world of business is changing. Will you keep up or be left behind?

Although remnants of the old, establishment way of operating linger on, this Millennial wave is becoming tremendously influential and will continue to lead us into a more progressive view of business. Already leaders of today are required to deploy a more comprehensive set of tools that go well beyond a technical skill set and a lofty education. Empathy and awareness are being added to leaders’ skill set. So-called “soft skills” are no longer considered intangibles. They’re a big component of why people will want to work for you and with you, and why they’ll aspire to follow the leadership image you provide for them.

The use of self-reflection is important to gain insight into yourself and your motivations. You must consider what it will mean for you to operate in a “we” rather than “me” environment. Reframing how to view business differently sets the foundation for your journey:

  • Is what I’m doing about me — or about them?
  • Who is this serving — me or them?
  • Am I setting up a culture that evolves around me — or around us?

You have to assess the selflessness of your leadership. You’ll need to make decisions that affect the whole. Knowing which course to take may become murky but be sure that you’re thinking of the whole — the we — of the organization. When it gets into me territory, you’re in trouble. Everyone has a survival mechanism that’s designed to look out for number one — to protect yourself. But when it comes to your leadership role, we must always be part of the equation.